A longitudinal multi site study of how individual employees create

Thesis Proposal
A longitudinal multi-site study of how individual employees create
new practices in employer branding by the use of social media.
P: The best it can do for you is to say something like, ‘When your
informants mix up organization, hardware, psychology, and politics in one
sentence, don’t break it down first into neat little pots; try to follow the
link they make among those elements that would have looked completely
incommensurable if you had followed normal procedures’. That’s all.
ANT can’t tell you positively what the link is.
S: So why is it called a ‘theory’ if it says nothing about the things we
P: It is a theory, and a strong one I think, but about how to study things, or
rather how not to study them – or rather, how to let the actors have some
room to express themselves.
S: Do you mean that other social theories don’t allow that?
P: In a way, yes, and because of their very strengths: they are good at
saying substantive things about what the social world is made of. In most
cases that’s fine; the ingredients are known; their repertoire should be kept
short. But that doesn’t work when things are changing fast. Nor is it good
for organization studies, information studies, marketing, science and
technology studies or management studies, where boundaries are so
terribly fuzzy. New topics, thats what you need ANT for. (Latour 2005)
September 2012
By Lars Haahr
Supervisor: Andrea Carugati
Department of Business Administration
Aarhus University
Andrea Carugati
Marleen Huysman
Sophie Esmann Andersen
Table of content
Part I
Research problematic
Preliminary literature review
Method of literature review
Result I: Emergent area of interdisciplinary research
Result II: Practical relevance
Result III: Methodological and theoretical relevance
Implications for the proposed Ph.D. project
Research Question
Methods and stakes in research questions
Research question and sub research questions
Managerial research questions
Part II
Research methodology
Philosophy of science: Paradigms or discourses?
Translations in discourse
Paradigm matrix
Critique of positivistic IS research
Research as dialogic discourse
The method is the writing
Syntaxes of entanglement
Theory and research streams
Relational ontology and syntax of actors
After paradigm shift and dangerous opportunity
Explorative study versus hypothetico-deductive study
Process versus variance study
Design of longitudinal real time field studuy
Three classic methods
Observation as tracing syntaxes of practice
Interview as interventive constructions sites
Document analysis as analysis of inscription of practice
Part III
Research plan
Field study
Field study overview and detail
Field study procedures and principles
Publication overview and detail
Publication procedures and principles
Research exchange, conferences and courses
The thesis proposal is presented in three parts.
Part one presents the research problematic
• The combination of social media and employer branding opens up new opportunities for individual
employees to become significant actors who create new practices. The emergent practices in
employer branding by the use of social media cause both practical opportunities and challenges for
managers and theoretical challenges for scholars.
• A preliminary literature review points to the relevance of interdisciplinary research that extends the
existing literature with a focus on the ‘middle’ of the employee life cycle. The literature review
points further to the relevance of research which methodologically is characterized by being
empirical, qualitative, longitudinal, and which has the emergent practices of the individual actor as
a focus point.
• The research question is motivated by both a practical and theoretical interest. The research
question: How do individual employees create new practices in employer branding by the use of
social media? is operationalized via four sub-questions. Finally the thesis proposal formulates four
managerial research questions.
Part two presents the research methodology
• The dialogic discourse is presented as the philosophy of science for the proposed project because it
matches the philosophical debate of the 21st century. Furthermore, it matches what is at stake in
organizational processes characterized by a multiplicity of actors and polyphonic voices.
• The research project is an explorative study in contrast to a hypothetico-deductive study, and it is
described as a process study in contrast to a variance study.
• Classic information system theory about the relation between technology and organizational change
is used to establish a theoretical frame of reference for the analysis of social media in a corporate
context. Two contemporary research streams in social media are introduced. The phenomenological
concept of technology is suggested as a third alternative approach for the study of social media
practices in employer branding.
• The design of the longitudinal study concerns: 1. Real time study and retrospective study. 2. The
relation between empirical processes and theoretical concepts. 3. The unique single case study and
the comparative multi case study.
• The three classic methods and their specific versions in this project are presented: 1. Observation as
a way of tracing syntaxes of practice. 2. Interview as interventive construction sites. 3. Document
analysis as analysis of inscription of practice.
Part three presents the research plan
• The field study plan in overview and detail for the first year is presented. The procedures and
principles for the field study are presented: 1. Involvement of actors. 2. Guiding questions. 3.
Design of intervals of field study and analytical activity.
• The publication plan is presented in tables as subjects for planned publication and as publication
pipeline. The procedures and principles for the publication plan are presented: 1. Substantive and
conceptual/methodological papers. 2. From conference papers to journal publication. 3. Co-authors,
colloquia and other feed back systems for writing.
• Finally communication activities, research exchange plan, conference participation and Ph.D.
courses are presented.
Part I
Research problematic
Todays organizations have started to move employer branding activities from traditional media to
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many more social media platforms1. Organizations already do this by
using social media as advertising space, but they have also started a more profound and game changing
practice by creating profiles that we a few years ago thought were only meant for private persons.
A pilot study showed that the emergent practices in some organizations resemble bricolage while it in
others is the outcome of long-termed prioritization and preparation (Haahr 2012). The pilot study also
found that some organizations hire specialists in social media and reputation management in order to
meet the new frontiers in social media, yet other organizations outsource the new activities.
Individual employees have also started to create social media profiles for employer branding objectives.
The immidiate goal for the organization is that the employee both externally and internally (Backhaus
and Tikoo 2004) functions as an ambassador of the employer brand, and thereby creates talent
attraction. A more precious objective is to engage the employee into a career development process and
thereby reach the ultimate goal of talent development and retention. The talent of today has his or her
stakes in the engagement…
The aim of the proposed research project is to study the emergent practices, and hence the outcome of
organizations that engage their most talented employees in becoming active in social media.
In an organizational perspective, it is significant that a multiplicity of actors and polyphonic discourses
characterize the use of social media in a corporate context (Haahr 2012). From a strategic managerial
perspective, this situation is welcomed as a necessary springboard for organizational innovation
(Christensen et al. 2008), but will also be regarded as a disciplinary challenge calling for regulations of
employees' practices both during and outside working hours (Zerfass et al. 2011). Along with
excitement about business adventures in social media, we also find that social regulation, legislation and
legal twists are the order of the day (Sánchez Abril et al. 2012, Determan 2012) .
In a media perspective it is noteworthy that Facebook has seen the growing market potential in
employer branding and the corresponding career performance mangement. In alliance with
Monster.com, Facebook has developed the application "BeKnown" as a competitor to LinkedIn.
Glassdoor, which is still unknown for many in Europe, but already has critical mass in the U.S.,
functions as a dedicated platform for evaluation of employers, just like TripAdvisor does in the
travelling industry. Also Aarhus University has thus got the first evaluations. The research in
accountability in relation to Trip Advisor (Scott and Orlikowski 2009, 2012) and social media (Stark
2009), and of accountability in general (Shotter 1984), is therefore relevant to extend to employer
In an information systems’ perspective social media is interesting because it points to a relational
practice, not a transactional or a decision-making practice (Potts and Jones 2011, Mokros and Aakhus
2002, Schultze 2000). Social media are less about signals and more about symbols (Feldman 1981,
Aakhus 2012). Social media have both promises and challenges in digitization of word of mouth
(Dellarocas 2003). The use of employee referral in employer branding is an example of this: Social
media will evidently play an important role in utilizing the strength of weak ties (Granovetter 1973), but
may also create unprecedented forms of complexity and conflict.
If we return to the focus of the proposed project, research in the individual person's use of new media
has historically drawn attention to the appearance of blurred bounderies, new rhetoric arenas and
identity platforms (Goffman 1959, Boyd and Ellison 2007, Persson 2010, Meyrowitz 1985). Likewise
the individual person’s use of social media in a corporate formative context (Ciborra and Lanzara 1994),
can be expected to become a journey between Scylla and Charybdis. - Is it as a private person, citizen,
The term social media is here used in its most basic form about platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter etc., but also
TripAdvisor, Glassdoor etc. that have a build-in technoogical architecture of participation. Further definition of social media as an
emergent practice is a central and integrated part of the proposed research project. See chapter 5 for further elaboration. Employer
branding is the external and internal marketing of a corporation as place for employment. It comprises the whole employment lifecycle from attention to termination (Backhaus; K and Surinder, T. 2004).
colleague, employee, friend, manager or worker? How should the person who retweet on Twitter or
‘like’ on Facebook in a corporate context be regarded by others and herself (Rybalko and Seltzer 2010)?
The focus of the project is talent innovation as an emergent practice embedded in modern information
The emergent practices are also interesting from a methodological and theoretical point of view. Are we
conceptually able to understand the emergent practices of individual actors (Schultze and Orlikowski
2004) in social media as a boundary spanning phenomenon (Kellogg et al. 2006), or as actants in
syntaxes both including people and technology (Latour 2005)? How do we best methodologically study
the changes in practice as an emergent process? Is it done through a longitudinal real-time study (Van de
Ven and Poole 1990) to avoid the pitfalls of the retrospective study? Or will we get a stronger outcome
via a retrospective multi case snap-shot study because it will make us able to map the variation across
many companies (Glick et al. 1990, Van de Ven and Huber 1990)? Are we to follow the IT practitioner's
forward-looking and optimistic view or will we be able to make a more convincing case if we follow the
organizational researcher’s critical sense for patterns repeating themselves (Orlikowski and Barley
2001)? Or, is it precisely by muddling through such paradoxes (Poole and van de Ven 1989) that we
become able generate game changing knowledge?
2 Preliminary literature review
2.1 Method of literature review
Initially, a search in SCOPUS was conducted because of its large number of journals. Second a search
was made in Business Source Complete because of its focus on and depth in business studies. A search
on the specific process of individual employees practicing employer branding showed no results, and a
broader search directed by the combination of the ‘topics’ of employer branding and social media was
therefore conducted. Concerning the search terms used: Both “Employer branding” and “Social media”
are relatively new and broad terms, and the search was therefore supplemented with relevant keywords
for both terms2. Business Source Complete was chosen because of a larger number of relevant findings.
A search on the combination of the two main and supplementary terms in peer reviewed articles and
proceedings on more than 5 pages resulted in 47 articles. Several of these though, were not real peer
reviewed articles. Via citation and reference lists, the corpus of literature has afterwards been
Silverman (2000) and Stebbins (2001) discuss if and when it is relevant to conduct a literature review.
Silverman advices the doctoral student to “write it up after your other chapters” (Silverman 2000, p.
229) and also asks: “do you need a literature review chapter?” (Silverman 200, p. 230). A forefighter of
exploratory research (Stebbins 2001) is very explicit about these matters: “By contrast, literature
reviews in exploratory research are carried out to demonstrate that little or no work has been done on the
group, process, or activity under consideration and that open-ended approach to data collection is,
therefore, wholly justified” (Stebbins 2001, p. 42).
Webster and Watson (2002) pinpoint the objective of the literature review by advocating that a literature
review should move from being author-centric to being concept-centric in the analytical process, and
that it should also be a practical communication task that has a sense-making objective.
2.2 Result I: Emergent area of interdisciplinary research
The literature on social media and employer branding has emerged in the last five years. The area has
considerable attention in the general press and popular publications, and has also got traction in industry
journals and periodicals. But for peer reviewed publications the domain of social media and employer
branding is still in its early dawn as is witnessed by the number and dates of the publications found.
Another related fundamental feature of the research in the field of social media and employer branding,
is its interdisciplinarity. A cross-citation analysis (Small 2010) of the articles results in a map of a very
loosely coupled corpus of peer reviewed literature.
2.3 Result II: Practical relevance
Which analytic gaze is relevant to use on the corpus of social media and employer branding literature?
In a situation where the research is emergent and sparce, it is important to focus on the fundamental
framing of the field. The basic employee life-cycle process has therefore been chosen as the analytical
framework. The process exists in different versions from few to several phases, and is congruent with
the 13 propositions by Backhaus and Tikoo (2004). To pin-point the tendency in the emergent literature,
the very fundamental narrative process of start, middle and end, will be used here. See table 2.1.
Concerning the start-phase of the cycle, we find the following research issues:
• Accessing and exploiting information about potential future employees in the market (Brandenburg
2008, Chang and Madera 2012b, Davison et al. 2011b, Girard and Fallery 2009, Girard and Fallery
2010, Girard and Fallery 2011, Laick and Dean 2011, Lang et al. 2011, Laumer et al. 2008, Llorens
• Legal and ethical aspects of how employers and recruiters track, monitor and use information about
candidates at social networking sites (Brandenburg 2008, Brown and Vaughn 2011a, Chang and
Supplementary terms include: "Employer branding": "employer brand" or "human resource" or "human resource
management" or recruitment or recruiting or "talent management" or "employer reputation" or “internal marketing”.
"Social media": "web 2.0" or "social computing" or "online social networks" or "online network" or "social network
site" or “facebook” or “twitter” or “linkedin” or “youtube” or “flickr”.
Madera 2012a, Clark and Roberts 2010, Davison et al. 2011a, McGrath 2012, Slovensky and Ross
Validity and value in using the available information from social networking sites. This includes
how organizations can secure the validity of the evaluation of candidates (Bohnert and Ross 2010,
Kluemper and Rosen 2009), and in a broader perspective it includes how organizations can utilize
social media business intelligence in ways relevant for employer branding (Seebach et al. 2012).
Consciousness of the image management in students’ profile postings and of the constituents in
students’ perception of employer brands, e.g. authenticity, as a basis for proactive actions leading to
a successful employer branding (Peluchette and Karl 2009, Waldeck et al. 2010, Henderson and
Bowley 2010, Brecht and Eckhardt 2012, Brecht et al. 2012)
(Bohnert and Ross 2010)
(Brandenburg 2008)
(Brown and Vaughn 2011b)
(Brecht et al. 2012)
(Brecht and Eckhardt 2012)
(Chang and Madera 2012b)
(Clark and Roberts 2010)
(Davison et al. 2011b)
(Girard and Fallery 2009)
(Girard and Fallery 2010)
(Girard and Fallery 2011)
(Henderson and Bowley 2010)
(Kluemper and Rosen 2009)
(Laumer et al. 2008)
(Laick and Dean 2011)
(Lang et al. 2011)
(Llorens 2011)
(McGrath 2012)
(Peluchette and Karl 2009)
(Seebach et al. 2012)
(Slovensky and Ross 2012)
(Waldeck et al. 2010)
(Antes and Schuelke 2011)
(Cooke and Macfarlane 2009)
(Grudin and Skeels 2009)
(Kaupins et al. 2012)
(Leidner et al. 2010)
(Martin et al. 2009)
(Mulin and Reen 2010)
(Davison et al. 2011b)
Table 2.1
Research issues in relation to employee life cycle
Concerning the middle-phase of the cycle, we find the following research issues:
• Employee introduction and assimilation. Especially the question of how generation Y expects
active organizational use of social media and of how differences between generations are relevant
for the success of assimilation of employees (Leidner et al. 2010).
• New specific interactive learning and people development opportunities in social media (Cooke and
Macfarlane 2009, Kaplan and Haenlein 2009, Mulin and Reen 2010, Martin et al. 2009). A special
area within learning is the development of creative leadership (Antes and Schuelke 2011).
• Internal organizational conditions for governing employee’s active use of social media. Developing
policies for employees’ use of social media (Kaupins et al. 2012).
Concerning the end-phase of the cycle, we find the following research issues
• Termination in relation to social media is according to Davison an almost non researched area
(Davison et al. 2011b). The search did not result in articles about ’remembering’ or ‘post-employee
A number of articles fall outside the applied employee life-cycle categorization: Three articles are meta
studies of the relationship between human resource and e-enablement (Martin et al. 2011, Martin and
Reddington 2009, Martin and Reddington 2010). Two articles involve studies of the adoption of social
media (Barnes and Mattson 2008, Heikkila 2010).
The life-cycle categorization of the articles demonstrates that the large part of the articles focus on the
start-phase of the life-cycle. A smaller part of the articles focus on the middle-phase of the life-cycle,
and only a part of one single article focuses on the final part of the life-cycle. On the basis of the
categorization of the found articles, there is a significant tendency in the ranking of the three phases of
the employee life cycle. Although the tendency is significant, it should be stressed that it is on the basis
of a small total number of articles in an emerging field of research.
To extend the emergent area of research in the middle-phase, the articles have been used as a
springboard for formulating the four sub research questions. See chapter 3.
2.4 Result III: Methodological and theoretical relevance
In the methodological and theoretical analysis of the literature, four basic characteristics have been in
focus. First, where the literature is empirically based and where the approach used is qualitative or
quatitative (Van de Ven and Poole 1990). Second, where the methodology is cross-sectional singlesnapshot or longitudinal (Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991). Third, where the level of analysis is
organizational or individual (Baskerville 2011). Fourth, where social media are understood as an
embedded practice or a tool (Orlikowski 1991). The characteristics are selected with the objective of
conducting a fundamental analysis of the existing corpus of literature in general, and is aimed at
studying emergent technological practices in particular. The result of the analysis of the first three
characteristics is included in table 2.2.
Basic research
Level of analysis
Cross-Sectional SingleSnapshot
(Barnes and Mattson 2008)
(Bohnert and Ross 2010)
(Brecht et al. 2012)
(Brecht and Eckhardt 2012)
(Chang and Madera 2012b)
(Kaupins et al. 2012)
(Kluemper and Rosen 2009)
(Laumer et al. 2008)
(Peluchette and Karl 2009)
(Seebach et al. 2012)
(Barnes and Mattson 2008)
(Bohnert and Ross 2010)
(Brecht et al. 2012)
(Brecht and Eckhardt 2012)
(Chang and Madera 2012b)
(Kaupins et al. 2012)
(Kluemper and Rosen 2009)
(Laumer et al. 2008)
(Peluchette and Karl 2009)
(Seebach et al. 2012)
(Cooke and Macfarlane 2009)
(Girard and Fallery 2009)
(Girard and Fallery 2010)
(Girard and Fallery 2011)
(Grudin and Skeels 2009)
(Heikkila 2010)
(Henderson and Bowley 2010)
(Mulin and Reen 2010)
(Leidner et al.
(Cooke and Macfarlane 2009)
(Girard and Fallery 2009)
(Girard and Fallery 2010)
(Girard and Fallery 2011)
(Grudin and Skeels 2009)
(Heikkila 2010)
(Henderson and Bowley 2010)
(Leidner et al. 2010)
(Mulin and Reen 2010)
(Antes and Schuelke 2011)
(Brandenburg 2008)
(Brown and Vaughn 2011b)
(Clark and Roberts 2010)
(Davison et al. 2011b)
(Laick and Dean 2011)
(Lang et al. 2011)
(Llorens 2011)
(Martin and Reddington 2009)
(Martin et al. 2009)
(Martin and Reddington 2010)
(Martin et al. 2011)
(McGrath 2012)
(Slovensky and Ross 2012)
(Waldeck et al. 2010)
(Antes and Schuelke 2011)
(Brandenburg 2008)
(Brown and Vaughn 2011b)
(Clark and Roberts 2010)
(Davison et al. 2011b)
(Laick and Dean 2011)
(Lang et al. 2011)
(Llorens 2011)
(Martin and Reddington 2009)
(Martin et al. 2009)
(Martin and Reddington 2010)
(Martin et al. 2011)
(McGrath 2012)
(Slovensky and Ross 2012)
(Waldeck et al. 2010)
Table 2.2 Basic methodological characteristics
Regarding the basic research characteristics of this emergent phenomenon, it is significant that less than
half of the studies are empirical, and of these only half are qualitative. The remaining articles are based
solely on existing literature. When research of an emergent phenomena is solely based on literature
there is a risk of extending existing and rather orderly schemas and understandings of organizational
change processes (Van de Ven and Poole 1990). Quantitative studies can be highly relevant for gaining
generalizable knowledge, but do not give us access to the level of detail in change processes we need to
understand human interpretation and interaction in the research site.
A interresting empirical qualitative study is Girard and Fallery (2010) which includes both qualitative
empirical research in the form of interviews, and furthermore suggests a theoretical shift. Girard and
Fallery argue that we need to go from a resource based view to a social network analysis approach in
order to become able to grasp the difference between recruitment in web 1.0 and web 2.0.
Another interesting empirical study is a learning project for graduates which methodologically functions
as soft action research (Checkland 2000). Cooke and Macfarlane (2009) in detail describe how
graduates experiment with web 2.0 technologies as an integrated part of the learning process. A strength
of the study is that it does not end up in technological determinism. Instead the significant criteria for
the project is conceptually framed via Wenger (1998) as a matter of community of practice. Although
the authors of the research project do not characterize it as longitudinal, the article nevertheless
communicates the learning practices as a process and emphasizes the significance of duration. The
graduate participants are not characterized as such, but do nevertheless become their own ‘technology
stewards’ before Wenger et al. in “Digital Habitats” (Wenger et al. 2009) coin the term. In another case
of learning, the concept of social media is more instrumental and deterministic (Mulin and Reen 2010),
but nevertheless describes an innovative learning process in the context of social media.
On the basis of a literature review Henderson and Bowley (2010) point to a gap in literature on the use
of web 2.0 technologies from a public relations and organizational communication perspective.
Henderson and Bowley conduct a discourse analysis of employees’ participation in a campaign that
included conflict between the organizational identity and the branded image. According to these authors,
further research is advised to include both knowledge about the target groups’ actual behavior on social
network sites, and the governance that organizations employ to control the authenticity of spokes
peoples’ own voices.
It is furthermore significant that only one article presents a longitudinal study. Snap-shot studies
(Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991) are dominant. See chapter 4 for more about dominant research
approaches in informations systems research. In a situation with an emergent research phenomenon as
social media, the study of changes over time is important if we are to understand how practices in
employer branding changes and the content of these. In this situation qualitative – and explorative longitudinal real time studies are of special importance if we want to understand the human
interpretative and emergent aspects of social media in employer branding. Leidner et al. (2010) in a
longitudinal three-year case study have been able to follow the employee’s interpretation of a change in
policies for the use of social media.
Concerning the level of analysis, none of the empirical articles have its focus on the level of the
individual, and therefore do not analyze the unique, singular practices of actors in social media in an
employer branding context. From the empirical articles that include interviews (Girard and Fallery 2010,
Henderson and Bowley 2010) we get quotes from interviewees, but no specification of their practice as
individual actors.
Finally, concerning the theoretical conceptualization of technology in organizational change processes,
only a few articles explicitly analyzes this cardinal relation. The rest of the studies merely regard social
media as a tool for communication. Articles that explicitely analyze the significance of the
‘combination’ of employer branding and social media include Laick and Dean (2011) and Girard and
Fallery (2010). Laick and Dean (2011) point to authenticity being characteristic of web 2.0, and that
organizations should take advantage of this. Due to lack of empirical evidence the article is not
including the built-in conflicts Henderson and Bowley (2010) detected. Girard and Fallery (2010)
suggest a shift in theoretical perspective to grasp the social dimension of web 2.0 as mentioned above,
but understand technology through the metaphor of ‘tool’ and thereby reify the social processes
(Orlikowski 1991). See chapter 5 for a further analysis of the concept of technology.
The observations above point to an emergent field of literature with interesting possibilities for
contributions through future research. The next part presents the immidiate implications for the
proposed Ph.D. project.
2.5 Implications for the proposed PhD project
The literature review points to four main implications for the proposed Ph.D. project.
First the literature review points to the notion of interdisciplinary awareness which become an
important part of future research in the use of social media in employer branding. Organizational
behavior, PR, technology studies, learning disciplines, corporate communication, business intelligence,
media studies and more disciplines can all contribute to the research. The interdiscplinary character of
the literature and the research interest in this research project is intended to match this condition.
Second the literature review points to the relevanc of focusing especially on the ‘middle’ and ‘end’ of
the employee life-cycle. These phases can be regarded as the social capital behind the branding
activities in the ‘start’ phase of the employer branding cycle: The ‘middle’ phase is identical to the core
commitment and contribution of the employees to the value creation processes. Both the main and the
sub research questions presented in next chapter reflects the importance and variety of the practices in
the ‘middle’ phase of the employee life-cycle. Auto-communication is also relevant and important to
include in the conceptualization of the practices (Aggerholm et al. 2011). Regarded as a substantive
domain, the proposed research project is an extension of the existing research in the ‘middle’ phase of
the employee life-cycle.
Third the literature review stresses to the relevance of having a research project which is characterized
by the following methodological elements: An empirical, qualitative, and longitudinal study with the
individual level as a focus point. Earlier research in the IS field has also pointed to the study of
organizational practies on the level of the individual as an important and relevant research arena
(Baskerville 2011, Schultze and Orlikowski 2004). Likewise for longitudinal studies of emergent
change processes (Pettigrew 1990). The attention to philosophy of science and methodological approach
in part two of this research proposal is intended to match these implications.
Fourth the literature review points to the relevance of a methodological and theoretical framework
which includes the multiplicity and entanglement of the practices of technology and people, and thereby
provide the requisite variety necessary to describe and understand the emergent processes in the
research site. The focus on methodological and theorectical questions in part two of this thesis proposal
is intended to match these implications.
3 Research question
3.1 Methods and stakes in research questions
The purpose of this section is to briefly clarify the general conditions for the tradition of asking the very
reseach question. Two different methods for generating research questions exist (Alvesson and
Sandberg 2011): Gap-spotting and problematization. Gap-spotting consists of identifying or
constructing gaps in existing literature which needs to be filled, it may include creative construction of
gaps and the gap may be defined by “specific negotiations between researchers, editors, and reviewers”
(Alvesson and Sandberg 2011, p. 249). Alvesson and Sandberg emphasize that problematization is not
“ready-made” alternative theories or “stock questions and puzzles”, but genuine problematization on the
ground of assumptions beneath existing literature.
The objective of the literature review has been to include elements of both gap-identification and
problematization in the proprosed project, and the research question therefore aims at including both
In a special issue of Journal of Management Inquiry in 1992, Lawrence and Weick represented two
classical positions on research approaches. Paul Lawrence (1992) presented the standpoint that research
should be problem-driven with a point of origin in real world problems and the practice of management.
In contrast, Weick (1992) represented the viewpoint that the objective of research should be theorydriven and contribute to the scientific discipline. Brinberg and McGrath (1985) have in the highly
formalized validity network schema a similar distinction between a research path where the substantive
domain has priority, named applied research, and a path where the conceptual domain has priority,
named the theoretical path.
The initial approach for the proposed research project was problem-driven representing an interest in
how organizations via the individual employee as actor can explore and exploit social media for
employer branding. The problem-driven interest has been supplemented by an analytical curiosity
concerning the theoretical challenges in analyzing the practical problem. As already described, the
proposed project intends to use actor network theory as frame of reference, and tentatively use the
concept of syntax to analyze and describe the emergent practices. In order to maintain the research
project truly generative the concept of syntax will not be included in the research question. To further
recognize the problem-driven dimension, I include four managerial research questions that match the
four sub research questions presented.
3.2 Research question and sub research questions
Based on the results of the pilot study and of the literature review presented above, it is relevant to
conduct a longitudinal study of social media actors’ emergent practice in employer branding. The
longitudinal study makes me able to trace and analyze the practices as an emergent change process in
time (Pettigrew 1990). The analysis of the individual actor sharpens the focus on the syntax of both
human and non-human actors being significant in the emergent practices (Latour 2005). I therefore
propose the following main research question:
How do individual employees create new practices in employer branding by the use of social media?
The main research question will be studied through four sub research questions that function as
specifications of the main research question. The four sub research questions are tentative, and should
be regarded as analytical frames to guide the explorative study.
1. How do individual employees create emergent organizational practices as boundary actors within
and between individual, corporation and community?
2. How do individual employees create emergent learning practices as an integral part of the employer
branding performance?
3. How do individual employees create emergent communication practices through community
conversations and digital turn-taking?
4. How do individual employees create emergent practices of human and non-human interaction
through post-social object relations?
3.3 Managerial research questions
The four managerial research questions correspond to the four sub research questions presented above.
In the validity network schema, Brinberg and McGrath (1985) use three conflicting values for the
substantive domain in a generative stage 1 research: System well-being, System task performance
effectiveness, and System cost. The managerial research questions are formulated with an emphasis on
the system task performance effectiveness value.
How do we best create innovative practices by the use of social media in employer branding?
How do we best create competitive performance via social media in employer branding?
How do we best communicate efficiently within social media in employer branding?
How do we best explore and exploit social media as a technology for employer branding?
Part II
Research methodology
4 Philosophy of science: paradigms or discourses?
4.1 Translations in discourse
The dialogic discourse is the philosophy of science behind the proposed research project. The objective
is to match the philosophical debate of the twenty first century and to match the conditions for
innovative processes and enablement of creative chaos (Chen 2009) in tommorow’s organizations. The
objective is furthermore to communicate what is already implicitly at stake in the most recent works of
e.g. Orlikowski and Latour.
Former examples of the use of dialogic discourse is Schultze and Leidner (2002) who studied
knowledge management and knowledge management research, and Levina and Vaast (2005), who
studied the emergence of boundary spanning actors and objects in a corporate–market context (Levina
and Vaast 2005). Studies by Schultze and Leidner (2002) and Paucar-Caceres and Wright (2011)
suggest that the dialogic discourse is seldomly practiced or used as frame of reference in IS journals.
4.2 Paradigm matrix
Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) introduction of four sociological paradigms in 1979 has had immense
influence. The axes of the matrix have perhaps been more influential than the four paradigms
themselves. The axes have had a tremendous impact on scholarly thinking, namely the axes of
subjective versus objective, and regulation versus radical change. The elements of the ladder
dichotonomy have often been substituted by structure and actor (Knights and Murray 1994). With a
similar impact, the matrix’s subjectivist-objectivist axis has also been applied to qualitative research
(Morgan and Smircich 1980).
In a study of the dominating paradigms in IS research, Goles and Hirschheim (2000) applies the four
paradigms of Burrel and Morgan (1979). They are critical of the dominating positivism within IS
research, and advocate a ’rise of pragmatism’ where there is ’multiparadigm perspectives’. But by
accepting the framework they, according to Deetz (1996), reproduce the positivist approach they claim
to criticise.
4.3 Critique of positivistic IS research
An alternative to Burrell and Morgan’s matrix of scientific paradigms is the study of accountants made
by Chua (1986) who identifies 3 research epistemologies: Positivist, interpretive and critical. Orlikowski
and Baroudi (1991) integrate Chua’s 3 epistemologies in their study of research streams within
information systems, and find that most research is conducted within the positivist epistemology. Most
interesting in relation to the proposed research project is the ‘time period of study’. The dominating
research designs are survey, laboratory experiment and case study. Regarding the ’time period’, it is
very significant that the positivist approach in information systems research is almost identical to a
’cross-sectional: single snapshot’ investigation method. as I also found in the literature review of social
media and employer branding. Following Van de Ven and Huber’s (1990) distinction between variance
and process studies, it is evident that variance studies dominate information systems research in these
1991 findings. The study of organizational change as processes are in disfavour.
It is noteworthy that ‘process traces’ in the 1991 study by Baourdi and Orlikowski only account for 1
percent of the studies. Also only one of the studies found in the literature review on social media and
employer branding is a longitudinal study. See table 2.2. The findings of Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991)
are up until today verified (Chen and Hirschheim 2004, Richardson and Robinson 2007, Falconer 2008,
Myers and Klein 2011).
4.4 Research as dialogic discourse
Deetz (1996) critizes the theoretical framework by Burrell and Morgan because it has been used to reify
research approaches into well defined objects, and because its dimensions is said to blur important
differences in research practiced today. What makes a difference in the way we conduct research
according to Deetz, is the discursive practice of the researcher.
In a critique of the subjective – objective distinction, Deetz stresses that the framework reproduces a
neo-positivist philosophy of science, and claims that it will not go away because it affords protection,
priviliges and identity for both ’objective’ functionalists and ’subjective’ interpretivists. Referring to
Husserl, Heidegger and Wittgenstein, Deetz writes that the dualism itself between subjective and
objective as a central part of the twenty first century philosophy has been refuted.
As an alternative to Burrell and Morgan's four paradigm matrix, Deetz suggests what he names two
’dimensions of contrast’. One dimension concerns the origins of concepts and problems: local/emergent
or elite/a priori. The other dimension concerns the relation to dominant social discourse: Consensus or
Dissensus. The dimensions are presented as a ‘grid’ with four discursive spaces. The discursive spaces
should not be regarded as autonomous paradigms. They should rather be regarded as a ”provisional
ordering of discourses” that in practice are not sealed off from each other, but interact and have impact
on each other. And this interaction and impact is not just between different authors, it is also within the
same researcher's work.
4.5 The method is the writing
In line with Deetz, Cunliffe (2011) defines the method as a phenomenon which is produced through the
discourse of the practice, e.g. the use of language. A preached epistemology is therefore not necessarily
practiced as method. Cunliffe scrutinizes this by analyzing how different epistemological approaches,
subjectivist or objectivist, claim to use the same research methods. Interview is one example, together
with grounded theory and case studies which are used by both positivists and interpretivists.
Cunliffe exemplifies this in three ‘problematiques’: the objectivist, the subjectivist and the intersubjective way of writing. See table 4.1
Discourse characteristics
The text is written about “the organization” as existing and factual.
The text is written in tentative ways about possible significations at play between
organizational actors.
The text is written as a reflective dialogue within a situation, “a knowing in-situ
where all participants are implicitely knowledgeable and therefore work together in
living conversation to shape meanings, insights, and a way of moving on” (Cunliffe
2010, p. 665).
Table 4.1 Discourse characteristics
Stebbins (2001) also discusses the use of language in relation to methodology, and advices the
exploratory researcher to use the present tense as the best way to express exploratory generalisations
(Stebbins 2001, p. 47).
Petit and Huault (2008) pin-point discrepancies of espoused principles of constructivist epistemology
and the used principles. The used principles are often lacking or positivist: “Our research points out that
the principles of constructivism are difficult to adhere to within research design. It underlines the lack of
specific methodological devices and lack of adaptation with the epistemological system of reference”
(Petit and Huault 2008, p. 73.). The advice from Eisenhardt and Graebner to constructivist researchers
confronted with this challenge is to be explicit about the objective, and to include “well-crafted tables,
appendixes, and visual aids to demonstrate the theory’s underlying emperical support and the
anticipated richness of the case data, and to tie these tables clearly to the text” (Eisenhardt and Graebner
2007, p. 29).
5 Syntaxes of entanglement
5.1 Theory and research streams
I relation to the contemporary question about how best to conceptualize social media in an
organizational context (Aakhus 2012), it is worth noting that there is a long and solid tradition in
Information Systems research for inquiry into exactly this intricate coupling of technology and
organizational change processes.
The seminal reception of the relation between technology and organizational change practice by Markus
and Robey distinguish between the technological imperative, the organizational imperative, and the
emergent perspective (Markus and Robey 1988). In prolongation of this conceptualization, and
including a critique of Burrel and Morgan (1979), Leonardi and Barley (2008) with a constructionist
approach present a clarifying analysis of how we can build better theory about technology and
organizational change if we do not “conflate the distinction between the material and the social with the
distinction between determinism and voluntarism”(Leonardi and Barley 2008). The final of how a
technology can shape practice without determining it, is from Barley's seminal longitudinal multi case
study of implementation of technically identical new technology in two different hospital departments.
In a study of how the relation between technology and organizational change is conceptualized in
contemporary research, Scott and Orlikowski (2008) find three research streams. The three streams
regard the relation between technology and organizational change being either discrete entities, mutually
dependent ensembles, or as socio-material assemblages (Scott and Orlikowski 2008). Orlikowski (2010)
reconfigures this reception into three distinctive conceptual positions, namely absent presence,
exogenous force, and emergent process, and furthermore proposes a fourth perspective on technology:
Entanglement in practice. Where the former positions are seen as examples of an ontology of
separateness, that can be traced back to a Cartesian dualism, the perspective ‘entanglement in practice’
is seen as a relational ontology which rejects the idea of separated objects and subjects, and favors
neither technology nor human beings as actors (Orlikowski 2010).
5.2 Relational ontology and syntax of actors
The strength of the ‘entanglement-in-practice’ perspective is that technology is not reified as a tool. An
example of such a reification is expressed in the subtitle of McAfee’s “Enterprise 2.0. New
Collaborative Tools for Your Organization's Toughest Challenges” (McAfee 2009). But the potential
risk is that the specificities of the technology as an actor vanish in the analytical and contextualizing
process. If this happens the good theoretical intentions ironically turn into a perspective similar to the
‘absent presence’.
To counterbalance this tendency it is therefore necessary to reintroduce the sensibility for non-human
actors and objects found in the phenomenological tradition. Yoo (2010) criticises two dominant streams
in technology research, namely the hermeneutical and the alterity relationship. From a
phenomenological position he argues for the necessity of a third position: the embodiment relationship.
Of special relevance for the current research in social media, the consequence of this conceptualization
is that “The relationships on these social networks are not simply representations of existing social
relationships. They are relationships of a different kind” (Yoo 2010, p. 219-220, italics by Yoo). This
Merleau Ponty-inspired perspective on the relationship between technology and users are in line with
the works of Latour (2005) and Knorr-Cetina (1997). It shares their interest in the technology itself, and
also the specific embodiments and relations.
About the multiplicity of possible positions in the signifying chain of human and non-human actors,
Latour (1992) states that they are less interesting than the syntax itself as the distributing force: “The
distinctions between human and non-human, embodied or disembodied skills, impersonation or
“machination”, are less interesting than the complete chain along which competences and actions are
distributed” (Latour 1992, p. 165). In an actor network theory perspective it is the process of translation
and inscription itself that is worth studying. Social media are not just an intermediary between actors.
Social media are a mediator.
This translation and inscription can take place on several levels and between levels. In the case of
employees using Facebook for employer branding, we can analyze the translation on the level of
Facebook as a world of interactivity in itself, but we can also analyze it at the level of posting messages,
sharing photos, ‘likes’ etc. Regardless of the level of analysis, it is in these communication processes
that altered competences and actions are distributed. Often without our consciousness or conscent.
In the analysis of TripAdvisor, Scott and Orlikowski (2009) note that most of the time we use
technology without giving it much attention. The role of TripAdvisor is described as a “defining
influence” and it is said that it “configures the nature of knowledge production that takes place”. Via
Barad’s (2007) concept of apparatus, and completely in line with the former quote of Latour,
TripAdvisor is described as follows: “apparatus are not assemblages of humans and nonhumans; they
are open-ended practices involving specific intra-actions of humans and nonhumans” (quoted from Scott
and Orlikowski 2009, p. 16).
About the written communication activity it is said that “Language is very much part of the
sociomaterial apparatus at work. Rather than being treated as static text, the reviews need to be given
textuality. […] The review is a window into the world of the person writing it (Scott and Orlikowski
2009, p. 18). This echoes Latour when he writes that “the inscription of builders and users in a
mechanism is very much the same as that of authors and readers in a story” (Latour 1992, p. 160).
5.3 After paradigm shift and dangerous opportunity
To establish a frame of reference for the proposed project, it is relevant to ask what characterizes
contemporary research in social media. With the above analysis of technology as springboard, it is
possible to detect two research streams.
The first stream of research regards social media sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter,
LinkedIn and many more as symbols of a new interactive future. It is important to note that not only
individuals as private persons take advantage of these platforms (Boyd and Ellison 2007). Also
companies want to profit from the new social networking opportunities, and therefore they create
profiles and become active on social media platforms (Culnan et al. 2010).
This stream of research suggests that social media bring a paradigmatic shift that takes communication
practices away from a field with a high degree of control to an arena of open dialogues out of managers’
control (Mangold and Faulds 2009). Phrased in the words of classical communication theory, social
media represent a shift from a transactional paradigm to a relational paradigm (Jones et al. 2009), and
that social media are a springboard for open dialogues with stakeholders who wish to create better and
longer lasting relations (Fieseler et al. 2010). Especially in the field of corporate social responsibility
(Roland 2009), social media have been seen as a media platform with potential.
In the arena of open innovation, focus has been on how corporations can take advantage of collective
consumer innovation (Kozinets et al. 2008) or how employees and networks of peers can and will
perform tasks "for free", and thereby which accomplishments, uncoordinated groups of users are able to
produce (Lakhani and von Hippel 2003).
The second stream of research focus on how social media can make a company vulnerable for a crisis
(Tripp and GrÉGoire 2011). The YouTube video showing United Airlines mistreating a guitar case or
Domino’s “YouTube crisis” are the preferred examples in this stream of research (Veil et al. 2012).
In line with this second stream of research, other recent studies focus on how companies hesitate to
exploit social media for conversation (Morsing 2011), which affirms the importance of being active in
e.g. Twitter by officially creating a policy and a strategy. In reality it does not execute the legitimizing
proclamations (Castello et al. 2012). It is also possible that a company explicitly choose to use a
"strategy of absence" in their reputation management (Aula 2010). These studies are in direct contrast to
publications that downplay potential conflicts or crises into a footnote (Kane et al. 2009).
It is highly interesting to study and learn from innovative uses of social media, and it is also relevant to
study and learn from companies that hesitate or are not active at all in social media. In order to prevent
us from ending up with a highly optimistic or pessimistic approach, it is first and foremost important to
open the black box of social media.
To open the black box of social media as an emergent technology practice for investigation, we have to
open as well the concept of ‘social’, of ‘media’ and of the combination ‘social media’. The tendency in
the two mentioned research streams is that social as well as media are conceived as a fait accompli.
Media is conceptualized as a neutral technology, a channel of transportation or an intermediary, not as
an active mediator. And social is regarded as a substance or a domain, not as an emergent process. An
exemption from this is the already mentioned study of TripAdvisor by Scott and Orlikowski (2009) in
which it is demonstrated that TripAdvisor reconfigures the daily communication practices in the travel
industry (Scott and Orlikowski 2009). Furthermore, TripAdvisor also inscribes actors in new relations of
worth and accountability with a much deeper impact (Scott and Orlikowski 2012, Stark 2009).
The point of departure for the proposed research project is that in order to understand social media as an
active mediator, we need to include the use of the technology; the technology in practice. One promising
way to include the use of technology is to follow the insights and analytical methods of what has been
named practice theory. Feldman and Orlikowski (2011) write that “In organizations, people often focus
on the technological artifacts with their tangibility, relative stability, and apparent predictability of
performance, and they downplay the technologies in practice that produce outcomes that are situated,
dynamic, and emergent” (Feldman and Orlikowski 2011, p. 1247). Following this approach, we need to
specify the type of technology we are coping with in the case of social media, and to pay close attention
to the situated and emergent practices and outcomes.
The risk is to mistake the new technology for being a new practice. Huysmann and Wulf (2005) write
that “although it might be the technology that helps to connect people, it is the social capital that helps
them stay connected” (Huysman and Wulf 2005, p. 85). In this perspective, the challenge of
understanding telecommuting as discussed by Orlikowski and Barley (2001) is exemplary for studies in
social media and employer branding. Because of our limited analytical gaze, we should ask if it is only
from another level of analysis, e.g. a macro perspective, or after a longer time span that ongoing
processes become recognizable as new practices (Pettigrew 1990).
6 Methodology
6.1 Explorative study versus hypothetico-deductive study
According to Brinberg & McGrath (1985) in ”Validity and the research process” we may distinguish
between preparatory generative studies, investigative hypothetico-deductive studies, and replicative
generalizability studies. See table 6.1. The ideal behind this triptych is the research methods of natural
science. Maybe because Brinberg & McGrath so evidently and explicitely adopt this ideal, they are able
to present a very differentiated view on division of labor and cooperation in research processes. This
manifests itself in the following quote:
“The work of stage one, in any of these three domains, is preparatory, exploratory, and above all
generative. It consists of finding or inventing elements and relations – concepts and conceptual
relations, methods and comparison techniques, phenomena and patterns among them – that are or might
be of value for stage two and stage three work.” (Brinberg & McGrath 1985, p. 31)
“Stage-one researchers are system experts in various systems within each of the three domains. Some
are experts in various kinds of methodology, some in various conceptual systems, and some in various
substantive systems. Usually, different sets of people do stage-one research in each of the three
domains. Furthermore, these are often different people than those who do stage-two research”(Brinberg
& McGrath 1985, p. 17-18).
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Central tasks
Selection, combination,
and use of elements and
relations from all three
domains to produce a set
of empirical findings.
Verification, extension,
and delineation of
particular stage-two
Research paradigm
development, and
clarification of elements,
relations, and embedding
systems for each of the
three domains.
Generative or constructive
Logical-empericist or
Generalizability or
Criteria of validity
Value or worth
Correspondence or fit
generalizability or
external validity
Table 6.1 Validity criteria for research stage 1 - 3
The validity criterion for a generative study is value or worth, see table 6.2. In the methodical domain,
value or worth is about the relationship between generalizability, realism and precision. Thorngate and
Weick (Thorngate 1976, Weick 1979) have similar prioritization criteria for studies. In the conceptual
domain the values to be handled and prioritized is Parsimony, Scope og Differention. In the substantive
domain, the three disederata for the validity criterion are System Well-Being, System Task Performance
Effectiveness, and System Cost. In all three domains, the three disederata can be regarded as values
which in the specific research project are to be handled and prioritized in order to make validity.
System well-being
System task performance
System cost
A substantive system
A conceptual system
A methodological system
Table 6.2 Validity criteria for stage 1
6.2 Process versus variance study
There is a strong tradition for operating with two principal types of theories of change within social
sciences in general and within organization research in particular: Process theories and variance theories
(Van de Ven and Huber 1990, Van de Ven and Poole 1990).
In process theories the focus is on changes being something that is created and which develops, grows
and ends as a time matter. Process theories ask with a 'how' and answer with a narrative, containing a
descriptive and/or explanatory generative mechanism. A matrix with the dimensions ‘mode of change’
and ‘unit of change’ can be established, and generate four superior theories of the 'engines' of change:
Life cycle, teleological, dialectical and evolutionary (Van de Ven and Poole, 1995). By adopting a
process theory view, a dynamic and diachronic perspective of the research question is established.
Process theory
Variance theory
Basic question
Time dimension
Explanation logic
Narrative with generative logic
Dependent-independent variable
Table 6.3 Process theory and variance theory
Variance studies focus on what comes in advance and creates change, and what comes next and is the
result of the change. Variance theories ask questions with a "what" and answer by an account of the
statistical relationship between input factors (independent variables) and outcome criteria (dependent
variables). The process itself is not in focus. By adopting a variance theory view, a synchronic
perspective of the researh question is established. See table 6.3 for an overview of the differences
between variance and process theory.
Van de Ven (2007) recommends that a research project combines a process study with a subsequent
variance study. The reason for the order is that key properties of order and sequence are first to be
developed and refined before tested as generative throughput mechanisms between input and output.
The process study and the development of process theory are thus the foundation of the variance study's
tests of the relationship between independent and dependent variables.
The process study is relevant for the project because the focus is on describing and explaining change as
a process evolving over time. The process study matches Latour's sequence-dynamic concept ’syntagm’
and my research question. The variance perspective is not prioritized in the research question, and
would also require established theories and propositions for the specific subject of study, and this is not
present in the project.
6.3 Design of longitudinal field study
Designing a longitudinal field study includes a least three classic questions (Van de Ven and Huber
1990, Van de Ven 2007, Barley 1990, Glick et al. 1990). 1. How does the researcher analytically cope
with change processes that unfolds in time: As an ongoing real time study or as a retrospective study? 2.
How does the researcher cope with the relationship between theoretical concepts and empirical
processes? 3. How does the researcher cope with the strength of the particular and the integrative
perspective in a single case field study versus the strength of the comparative and selective perspective
in a multi case field study? In the following paragraphs these questions will be elaborated.
6.3.1 Real time and retrospective
A longitudinal study can be designed to observe and analyse during the course of change, in real time.
Or it may be designed so that observations and analysis take place after the course of change, in
Considerations regarding resources speak for the use of the retrospective study. To observe
retrospectively requires fewer resources, and it is easier to establish a general understanding. An
example of this is Isabella’s (1990) studies of the participants’ conception of sequences in a change
process. This study does however also point out the limitation of the retrospective study of changes,
namely that the already established interpretation schemas will often appear, not giving room for
emergent events and patterns in a change process. In short, in a retrospective study more sense than
sensibility will appear. In our study it is the latter which is interesting and therefore a real time analytical
approach will be prioritized. Emergent practices and patterns speak for a real time study as in Van de
Ven and Poole’s MIRP study (Van de Ven and Poole 1990).
However, real time observation of emergent processes in a longitudinal study also contains challenges
qua the quantity of information or incidents. Van de Ven and Huber (1990) therefore point to the
advantage of combining existing studies based on a retrospective method with ongoing studies based on
real time methods. A recent example of combining a retrospective and real time methodology is seen in
a study of learning processes (Bingham and Davis 2012)
6.3.2 Concept and empirical process
Actor network theory, and in general a phenomenological approach, will function as the theoretical
frame of reference for coping with the intricate relationship between concept and emperical process. The
‘unit of analysis’ will be the syntax of social media practice in employer branding. The concept of
practice refers to practice theory (Feldman and Orlikowski 2011). More fundamentally it refers to
Garfinkel's etnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967) and Latour's use of it. The concept of syntax refers to
Latour's use of Greimas’s actant analysis.
The research traces the syntactic combinations which constitute the practice in the form of actants doing
something for and with each other, with objects etc., and thereby undergo translations. Practice be
understood as syntactic constituted translations, and it is through the syntax that translations can be
traced and described. Like Garfinkel, Latour is critical of explanations which are not immanent. Inspired
by Greimas, Latour prefers the term actant over actor. Actants are to be seen as formal instances more
than empirical essences. Latour is though, also skeptical about the importance of actants for the analysis:
“The distinctions between human and nonhuman, embodied or disembodied skills, impersonation or
“machination”, are less interesting than the complete chain along which competences and actions are
distributed.” (Latour 1992, p. 165). In an actor network theory perspective it is the process itself of
translation and inscription which is valuable to analyze.
Scott and Orlikowski (2009) echoe Latour's focus on the process-related and narrative when they in a
Barad inspired analysis of TripAdvisor write that “apparatus are not assemblages of humans and
nonhumans; they are open-ended practices involving specific intra-actions of humans and nonhumans”
(Scott and Orlikowski 2009, p. 16). In the proposed project, the special focus points expressed in the sub
research questions should precisely be traced through syntagmatic and narrative analysis of practice.
6.3.3 Multi case and single case longitudinal field study
To obtain the strength of comparability and of empirical robustness, the proposed project will be
conducted as a multi case field study on both the individual and the organizational level. The research
process is planned to start as a field study in one organization during the first year. After the first year,
the field study will include two more organizations. The reason for this is that the first year of field
study will be used to narrow the focus on which processes to shadow, how and who to interview, and
what documents to include in the analysis.
During the first year of study the research project is already as multi-case field study on the individual
level. On the organizational level, the research process is more focused and directed after the first year.
Therefore the project is ready for including a selected group of employees in two more organizations.
The goal of including three and not only two organizations in total, is that the comparative analytical
processes will be challenged in order not to end up in mainstream dichotomies concerning the
organizations as comparable ‘cases’.
7 Methods
7.1 Three classical methods
The analysis of practice will be made by the three classic methods: Observation, interview and
document analysis. The methods will support the overall research approach and the requirements
emerging from the special conditions in a digital and distributed organizational environment. Using
Marcus' ‘multisite etnography’ (1995) as a critical point of departure, we will not have a village
constituted on dichotomies, but rather a distributed and complex world. I will present the adequate
methods in this situation as: observation as follow or trace, interviews as interventive construction sites,
and document analysis as narrative text analysis.
These three research methods are the three classical constituents of triangulation in ethnography and
case study. Ideally they are chosen to complement each other and thereby in a certain tradition to
constitute a triangulation of knowledge. The distinction between observation, interview and document
makes sense when we think of them as distinct, objective practices, but will often become combined and
overlapping practices, not least due to the researcher’s active role in all three methods. From a practical
point of view, it will in certain situations be of advantage to conduct observations before an interview,
but the reverse process can also be profitable.
Different writers like Yin and Latour recommend that the researcher keeps a logbook of the research
activities. Notes, diaries and more systematic records during the research process may be regarded as
neutral registration activity, but they may also be conceived as an active part of the research itself.
Latour states that we write down risky accounts: We write texts, we don’t look through some window,
and therefore he suggests we go back to basics by keeping 4 separate notebooks: A log of the inquiry
itself, a book with information kept in chronological order and in categories, a book of ad libitum
writing trials, and finally a book in which we register the effects of the written account on the actors
(Latour 2005).
In the following sections I will account for how the three methods are affected by the special conditions
existing in both the substantive, conceptual and methodological field.
7.2 Observation as tracing syntaxes of practice
Observation of actors' actions in relation to the use of social media will for example comprise tweets,
comments, replies, conversations and photo sharing. Actions may also comprise preparations, planning
and evaluation of activities. Access to the real actions will be made in two ways. By observing the
actual text production made via the social media, and by shadowing the employees individually in their
daily work. Actors do also comprise non-human actors such as technological platforms.
In the substantive, empirical field, we have some special conditions due to a digital and distributed
organizational environment. In the conceptual field, we state with our research question that established
dichotomies for organizational and communicative practices are being eroded. In the methodological
domain, the "follow" technique is introduced as an adequate method under such conditions.
The multi-site study can be experienced as a challenge compared to the übersichtlichkeit of the ‘village’,
and Marcus (1995) asks if all ethnographers are competent to practice multi-sited field research? Multisite ethnography is not just about a multitude of sites. The approach also includes a critique of
mainstream dichotomies as a condition for understanding the new syntaxes of practice. The article also
critiques the traditional understanding of the position of the researcher, and suggests the ‘situational
researcher’ as an adequate description. Finally Marcus suggests several ‘tracing’ or ‘following’
strategies for investigation that resembles ANT in many aspects. All aspects are interrelated and a part
of a research approach or discourse very similar to what we have described earlier as ‘dialogic’.
The specific organizational and digital conditions for observation in the proposed research project have
affinities to both the research site described by Scott and Orlikowski (2009) in the TripAdvisor study,
and the research site described by Cunha and Orlikowski (2008) in their study of how online discussion
forums are used in organizational change processes.
But “Multi sited ethnography” is definitely not just about the ‘world’ out there in form of empirical sites
and mainstream dichotomies. It also concerns the understanding and inscription which we as researchers
practice. In a discussion of one of Marcus’ most recent articles, (Marcus 2010), Roephstorff (2011)
conceptualizes this as the ’double nature of the experiment’: The experiment both points towards the
world and the material that is investigated, and towards a reflexive understanding of the tradition and the
conceptions that guide the interpretation of the material. ‘Observation’ is therefore definitely not just
observation, but from the very beginning interventive and inscriptive practices. When we surpass the
Cartesian dualism, we as researchers also become an example of entanglement in practice. Our research
project becomes an inscription process. Where Scott and Orlikowski (2009) stress this condition by the
use of conceptual digressions, Latour often in playful ways interpellates the reader as a part of the
inquiry (Latour 1996).
7.3 Interviews as interventive construction sites
The interviews will focus on the actors' practice in relation to the research questions. Guided by
Brinberg and McGrath (1985) there are three focal points: thoughts, feelings and actions in relation to
the practice.
With a dialogic discourse as the ideal framework for the research project, interviews with actors will
play a special role and take place in a special way in the investigation. Van de Ven emphasizes several
times in “Engaged scholarship” that the dialogue and the cooperation with the actors of the research
project are decisive both for the actual research results and for the development of social studies. Latour
writes with his usual sense of one-liners about ‘When things strike back’ (Latour 2000), and in the intro
for this Ph.D. project, that the actors must have room to express themselves.
The interview itself is an example of a potential inter-subjective or dialogic discourse and thus match
the theoretical framework outlined for the research. A special proactive form of interview is the socalled interventive interview. Interventive interviews were originally developed and conceptualized by
Karl Tomm (Tomm 1988) within the realm of family psychotherapeutic practice, but have since been
translated into other disciplines, among others to the field of organizational change processes (Luscher
et al. 2006). The interventive interview bears the fundamental sign of dialogic studies through the
intervention that both include an analytical and a constructive dimension. Luscher et al.(2006) combines
the interventive interview with the concept of paradoxes referring to a tradition where paradoxes are
regarded as vehicles for studying organizational processes (Poole and van de Ven 1989). The objective
of the interventive interviews is to induce collaborative analysis and sensemaking in the research
process. With the words of the ANT professor, the objective of the interventive interviews is “to let the
actors have some room to express themselves”. In doing so, the interview and the research process also
becomes a construction site, about which Latour (2005) writes that “Usually the advantage of visiting
construction sites is that they offer an ideal vantage point to witness the connections between humans
and non-humans.”
7.4 Document analysis as analysis of inscription of practice
Document analysis in relation to practice (actions, thoughts, feelings) can include the employees' own
notes, proposals from the management, calendars etc. These documents are not just objects existing
outside the translations, but like actors they may be subjected to an analytical trace or follow practice. In
the early studies of scientific processes (Latour and Wolgar 1979), it was just that kind of gaze that
Latour and Wolgar used: How are documents created through their ‘journeys’ and how is a practice
syntax hereby created, in this case a scientific practice? In our case, an example is the strategy paper
about the involvement of 25 employees and their use of social media. The paper has been produced and
finalized in an ongoing process by the various organizational actors involved in the project. Such a
document has a certain degree of inscription effect which is worth including and analyzing as a part of
the syntax of practice.
From a similar practice theoretic standpoint, such documents can be perceived as knowledge sharing as
well as indexes of individual and organizational processes (Østerlund 2003, Østerlund and Carlile
2005), which is highly relevant for my research project.
Part III
Research plan
Research plan 2011 - 2016
Field study
Paper 0
Case 1
Case 1
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Case 1
Case 2
Case 3
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Paper 1
Paper 2
Paper 3
Paper 4
Paper 1
Paper 3
Paper 4
8 Field study
8.1 Field study overview and detail
Overview of field study 2011 – 2015:
September 2011- March 2012
Pilot study
March - June
Preparatory organizing
Field study START: Case 1
Field study
Field study. Inclusion of Case 2 and Case 3
Field study
Field study
Field study END
Table 8.1 Overview for field study
Detailed plan for field study 2012:
Detailed description of purpose / objective
March June
Preparatory organizing
of field study
Kick off meeting about research project
Participation in strategic seminar on the use of social media.
One day follow of editor for Facebook profile.
Meeting about status of employee engagement project,
international aspect, selection of participants for interviews and
follow-observation, etc.
Field study START
Interviews with all participants
One-day follow-observation sessions with a selected group of
Document analysis of Facebook and Twitter profiles.
Table 8.2 Detailed plan for field study 2012
8.2 Field study procedures and principles
The field study approach is inspired by two Ph.D. scholars’ guiding books: “Reasembling the Social” by
Latour (Latour 2005) and “Engaged Scholarship” by Van de Ven (Van de Ven 2007).
Involvement of actors
The longitudinal field study will initiated by conducting periodic meetings with small groups of actors
(focus groups) from various parts of the organization that are involved in comparable change efforts or
new ventures. The objective of these meetings is to discuss the meanings and effects of the research
questions: How and why do practices develop over time? How and why are these practices related to the
four sub-research questions? The objective is furthermore to explore methods to study the research
questions: What research methods fit specific processes and actors? The involvement of actors also have
a wider perspective for the research process. As Van de Ven writes “Moreover, these meetings often
identified individuals whom we negotiated with to become study advisors, facilitators, or coinvestigators.”(Van de Ven 2007).
Guiding questions for observation, interview and document analysis
As described above, guiding questions will be developed through involvement of the actors. To
facilitate this process of operationalization I have found inspiration in different sources.
One source is Van de Ven and Poole’s (Van de Ven and Poole 1990) five tracks of ‘coding’. The five
tracks concern the following basic constituents in a practice understood as a narrative:
• People: Actors involved in an incident, the roles and activities they perform at a given point of time.
• Ideas: the substantive ideas or strategies that actors use to describe their practice at a given point in
• Transactions: The informal and formal relationships among actors, internally and externally,
involved in the incident.
• Context: The events outside the practice unit in the larger organization and industry or community
which are perceived by actors to affect their practice.
• Outcomes: When incidents provide evidence of change, they are indexed as representing positive,
negative or mixed value.
Another valuable source is Huysman’s social capital inspired analytics concerning the conditions for
designing knowledge-sharing tools (Huysman 2004). As a support for e.g. shadowing the actors, the
analytics have three very relevant and fundamental research questions:
• Who shares knowledge, and how is knowledge shared?
• What kind of knowledge is shared?
• Why and when is knowledge shared?
Finally the works of Latour and other scholars in the tradition of actor network theory will be used as
source of inspiration and practical guidance in establishing an operational analytics for the field study.
Design of intervals of field study and analytical activity
The objective of the longitudinal study is to trace and describe the changes in practice as changes that
unfold over time: As emergent practices. It is therefore important that the field study is designed as a
double process. It has to facilitate a process of emerging oneself as researcher in the practice processes
to grasp their complexity. But it also has to facilitate enough analytical distance in time and space to
detect changes of significance. By conducting two months of field study twice a year, and consequently
two times four months of analytical distance, it is the goal to establish such a double analytical
movement in the field study. The reason behind this is, that two months is enough time to emerge into
the processes as researcher, and that after four months’ absence from the research site, it is self evident
and less a matter of interpretation and negotiation if change in practice has emerged. The described
design of the field study matches the earlier described method of interventive interviews and also
establishes intervals for practicing Garfinkel’s ‘breaching’ methods.
An argument for the intervals of field study and analytical activity is also the question of resources in a
situation of synchronous obligations in the field of teaching and counselling.
9 Publication
9.1 Publication subjects and pipeline
Publication subjects:
Research question
How do individual employees create emergent organizational practices as boundary actors in within and between
individual, corporation and community?
How do individual employees create emergent learning practices as an integral part of the employer branding
How do individual employees create emergent communication practices through community conversations and
digital turn-taking?
How do individual employees create emergent practices of human and non-human interaction through post-social
object relations?
Table 9.1 Subjects for planned publication
Publication pipeline:
Paper 0
Pilot study
Paper 1
Conference version I
Conference version II
Conference version III
Journal publication
Paper 2
Conference version I
Conference version II
Journal publication
Paper 3
Conference version I
Conference version II
Journal publication
Paper 4
Conference version I
Conference version II
Journal publication
Table 9.2 Publication pipeline
9.2 Publication procedures and principles
9.2.1 Substantive and conceptual/methodological papers
The Ph.D. will be written as a paper-based dissertation. The tradition of the paper-based dissertation is
that it consists of a cover section with theoretical and methodological questions, and a main section
consisting of papers on the substantive research question. With this double character of the dissertation
it is relevant to prioritize and be conscious of both the paper directed work and of the daily work
processes: Is it preferable to start and prioritize with a focus on theoretical writings with the intention of
becoming competent and publishing papers in the conceptual and methodological domain? Or is it
preferable to kickstart and prioritize the field study and the fundamental analysis of the emperical
material into conference papers?
In an early version of this thesis proposal four conceptual and methodological papers were placed first
in line. The reasoning was that these matters were important and that they could be written regardless of
the early phase of the field study. After valuable feed back this plan is turned upside down.
The subjects of the papers are identical with the four sub research questions. See table 9.1
9.2.2 From conference papers to journal publication
The short term objective is to present conference papers on the empirical results from the field study in a
basic analytical form as soon as possible. An argument for this strategy is that there exists very few
empirically based articles as demonstrated in the literature review. The long term objective is then
through feed back processes to improve these conference papers into journal publications.
I regard the writing proces as an iterative process. My very first paper, “Exploratory framework for
organization’s as actors on Facebook”, is a good example of a first version of a conference presentation.
In the workshops at IRIS 2012 I got valuable feed back on how to improve not just the paper itself, but
also my research process and analytical approach. Regardless of the iterative nature of writing papers, I
have made a schematic liniear illustration of the process as a paper publication pipeline. See table 9.2
9.2.3 Co-authors, colloquia, and other writing feed back systems
To sustain the publication process, I plan to facilitate it via co-authoring, colloquia and other feed back
systems. I plan to exploit the advantages of co-authoring papers with a more experienced researcher.
This will help me learn to work within the ‘format’ of papers, and strengthen my personal explorative
start-up working profile. As a broader directed initiative to establish network and feed back
opportunities, I plan to organize informal colloquia on both the substantive and methodological matters
of the proposed project. If a proposed elective course for masters students in employer branding starts in
the spring semester of 2013, this will also give the opportunity to use lecturing and counseling as a
living feed back system.
10 Communication
Presentation: Social media as learning platform at Interdisciplinary Center for
Entrepreneurship, Aarhus University.
Presentation: Enabling innovation at Burning Man conference organized by the Danish
Culture Institute, Copenhagen.
Interview: Social media in employer branding for special issue of Jyllands-Posten.
Presentation: Social media in employer branding at conference held by University Career
Center, Aarhus University.
Presentation “Talk the walk. Enablement of organizational innovation in a social media
world” at conference held by VIA University College.
In progress: Lecture series on social media in organizational business context at the Danish
University Extension in Aarhus (in Danish: "Folkeuniversitetet i Aarhus").
11 Research exchange, conferences and courses
Research exchange
H-STAR, Stanford University.
Center for Information System Research (CISR), MIT.
I am in the process of planning the research exchange activities.
Participation in conferences
Participation in Ph.D. courses
Research methods in practice, DOME , 3 ECTS
Classic Organization Theory, DOME 6-10/6; 5 ECTS
Work Systems Theory: A Theory Base for Information Systems, DaRSIS, 23/5, 1 ECTS.
Social network analysis, DOME 14-20/8, 5 ECTS
An introduction to research design, DOME, 5 ECTS
Writers Course, KU
Social media, CBS, 5 ECTS
Publish or perish
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